Saturday, 28 July 2012

Nuclear Deterrent Options – the outcome of the 2015 General Election will one or another decide the future of the Submarine Deterrent Policy that started with the Strategic Submarine RESOLUTION commissioned in October 1967, armed with POLARIS missiles.

The Liberal Democrats are prepared to endorse a scaled down version of the £25bn programme to replace the TRIDENT missile submarine and an internal review by the Ministry of Defence is expected to produce a "menu of options" including putting the UK's nuclear weapons on "standby" so they could be reactivated at short notice.       The warheads would be launched with Cruise missiles from the existing ASTUTE class Fleet Submarines, with the two elements kept at separate locations. This would save billions of pounds as the Government would not need to replace the four (4) VANGUARD Class submarines, one of which is continuously at sea.     The MoD review is due to conclude by the end of this year and, while some details will be kept secret, a summary is likely to be published early next year.

The "standby" option is winning growing support among Liberal Democrats and is expected to feature in their 2015 election manifesto if it is given the go-ahead by the MoD study.    The move would allow the Liberal Democrats to fight the election on a platform distinct from that of not replacing TRIDENT like for like but some other cheaper (and less effective ?) option.

The Conservatives remain strongly committed to providing a "like-for-like replacement" for TRIDENT by 2028, a process begun by the previous Labour Government. The Conservatives would almost certainly portray the "standby" plan as too risky in an uncertain and dangerous world and argue that the UK must remain a full member of the nuclear club to maintain a credible deterrent.   Although contracts worth £1.3bn for the new TRIDENT system have been announced recently, the Coalition parties have agreed to differ on the issue and have put off the final decision on the UK's deterrent until 2016.   The alternatives can be summarised as :
·         "Like for like" replacement of existing submarine-launched TRIDENT from 2028 at a cost of £25b favoured by Conservatives and, for now, by Labour.
·         Scaled down version of TRIDENT with warheads launched with Cruise missiles from ASTUTE class Fleet Submarines.    Much cheaper. Likely to feature in a 2015 Liberal Democratic manifesto.
·         Opt for an air launched nuclear deterrent - was considered by previous Labour Government..
·         Scrap the nuclear deterrent the favoured option by CND, the SNP and the Green Party.
DARING Back – The Type 45 Destroyer DARING has arrived back after completing a successful maiden deployment “East of Suez”.

Citizenship – heavily featured in the media is the case of a Commonwealth citizen facing being deported at the end of long British service, despite being married to a British citizen, having children and paid all his taxes whilst fighting for “Queen and Country”.  A minor misdemeanor whilst in service means he cannot remain – the case is rightly to be reviewed.     Lest you think this is an “Army” problem on the Fleet Flagship, the Assault Ship BULWARK are two Fijian brothers, serving as Seamen, and their cousin will represent Fiji at judo in the Olympic Games.  There must be many more Commonwealth citizen serving under the colours and this problem needs to be sorted once and for all and quickly.
Commodore-in-Chief of the Maritime Reserves – the HRH Prince Michael of Kent, who is the Commodore-in-Chief of the Maritime Reserves visited the Fleet Flagship, the Assault Ship, BULWARK serving off the Dorset Coast.    Landing on the BULWARK by Fleet Air Arm LYNX he was escorted on a tour around the departments of the ship, followed by a trip around Weymouth Bay in an Offshore Raiding Craft.    Three Royal Marines from 10 Training Squadron RM (Poole) escorted the Prince.    The Maritime Reserves have been mobilised from their civilian status this summer to support  the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Cluster Repair Contract at A&P Falmouth – the fifth ship to have a multi-million pound refit as part of the Cluster contract at A&P Falmouth, has arrived in the port for work to begin.   The Landing Ship RFA LYME BAY has returned to the UK after three years in the Gulf supporting coalition operations.  The RFA LYME BAY has been acting as “mothership” to the (UK) Bahrain Mine Countermeasure Squadron deployed in the Gulf.   The RFA LYME BAY has been relived by sistership RFA CARDIGAN BAY which left Falmouth earlier this year after receiving her own major refit and communication upgrade.

The Cluster Support Programme – a contract between A&P Group and the MoD to provide worldwide support covers the three BAY Class Landing Ships, the RFA CARDIGAN BAY, RFA LYME BAY and RFA MOUNTS BAY plus the Aviation Training Ship RFA ARGUS.

The five month programme of work to the RFA LYME BAY will include a new exhaust; ballast water treatment installation; an overhaul of the main engines and propulsion systems; survey and recertification work; a full paint and antifouling programme plus general upkeep and maintenance.     A&P Falmouth has become a one stop shop for the four RFA vessels with its spares supply service - it provides all the in service spares and logistics to ensure the vessels and their land based stores are kept fully stocked to keep them operational.

A&P Falmouth will undertake the planned refit of the Aviation Training Ship RFA ARGUS in 2013.

Constables Dues Paid Again – Earlier this year the Type 42 Destroyer LIVERPOOL, on a final visit to London paid the “Constables Dues”, a historic acceptance of the Crown’s authority over the City of London, as during the Middle Ages, successive Kings believed it was their right to extract tolls from vessels on the Thames.     On the King’s behalf, the Constable of the Tower of London was empowered to demand these tolls as a perquisite of his office. Past offerings have included barrels of rum, or oysters, mussels and cockles. This year the Tower’s Constable was presented with a barrel of red wine by the Helicopter Carrier OCEAN whilst berthed on the Thames at Greenwich.     Throughout the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games the primary role of the OCEAN will be to act as a base for Royal Navy and Army helicopters in support of the Police, as well as accommodating some 400 miltary personnel working at Greenwich Park.

In order to deliver the barrel of wine (representing the ‘Dues’) to the Constable of the Tower of London, a platoon of officers and sailors, led by the band of Royal Marine Band from the training establishment  COLLINGWOOD (Fareham), to the Tower’s West Gate.      There they were challenged by the Yeoman of the Guard, before proceeding through to Tower Green. The naval contingent was escorted by Yeoman Warders (commonly known as ‘Beefeaters’) in red and gold State Dress.

SEVERN Adventures – The Fishery Protection Patrol Boat SEVERN in an eventful month visited its affiliated “City”, Newport, an annual visit which coincided with Mayoral Civic Sunday, Veterans Day, the Jubilee Celebration Service, Armed Forces Day and the launch of the Newport Armed Forces Covenant and so it was a particularly busy weekend.   From Newport the SEVERN sailed back on Maritime Security and Fishery Protection tasking.

The SEVERN (and the two sisterships MERSEY and TYNE) are now part of a joint approach to enforcing European Fisheries Legislation and they operate in UK, and French, Irish and Spanish waters in support of the South West Approaches Common Control Programme with the inspectors embarked. This unity of effort together with shared information resulted in the detection of several serious offences, the results of which included seven vessels detained for further investigation by national authorities.

In between two lengthy offshore patrols, SEVERN enjoyed an Operational Stand-Down Period in Vigo (Spain), the largest fishing port in Europe and home to the European Fisheries Control Agency.     The SEVERN will continue to conduct Maritime Security and Fishery Protection Operations on the West Patrol.
A ’Rose for Her Majesty – The Type 23 Frigate MONTROSE was  present at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee “sail-past” in Solent, on the final day of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee tour of her kingdom.   The MONTROSE escorted HM The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh who were aboard the superyacht LEANDER as the Royal couple visited the Isle of Wight.    The MONTROSE, fresh from a recent period of maintenance, joined the LEANDER west of Cowes ready to accompany the 250ft vessel (owned by Sir Donald Gosling, honorary Rear Admiral and Vice Admiral to the United Kingdom), and during that passage the frigate’s company paid their respects to their Monarch in time honoured tradition, dressed in their No.1 Uniforms and lining the upper deck, the men and women of the MONTROSE  manned and cheered ship’ as the frigate conducted her own sail past of the LEANDER while a 12 strong Guard of Honour paraded on the upper deck.   As the Royal Party prepared to sail into Cowes, the warship steamed past LEANDER and three cheers rang across the harbour.

Donald Gosling joined the Royal Navy in 1944 and served in the Mediterranean on the Cruiser LEANDER.      After the War, together with Ronald Hobson, he founded Central Car Parks, when the pair invested £200 in a bombsite in (Central London) and in 1959 Central Car Parks took over National Car Parks and Donald Gosling co-chaired the business until he retired in 1998.

Flame Delivered Job DoneRoyal Marine Martyn Williams abseiled from a Fleet Air Arm SEA KING HC.4 helicopter of the Commando Helicopter Force from Yeovilton and delivering the Olympic Flame to the Tower of London, amid much media coverage, at the start of its last stage of its long journey to the games.     The helicopters of 845 and 846 Squadrons, Fleet Air Arm provided the rotary power for this event.   The flame started this leg of its journey at Guildford (Surrey) and was greeted by big crowds on a summer evening on the banks of the Thames and on Tower Bridge, all covered by impressive live television coverage.     The first 9½ tonne helicopter manoeuvred into a 60ft low hover above Tower Wharf, allowing four (4) Royal Marines Commandos from the Commando Training Centre in Lympstone (Poole) to fast rope from the cargo door to the ground and mark the area for the second helicopter which came into a hover at 180ft just moments later to allow the dramatic abseil.   Various dignitaries were of course present and after the handover two torchbearers carried the flame around the Tower of London, and at the Jewel House, eight State Trumpeters from the Band of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment played a dramatic fanfare before the flame was handed to the Constable of the Tower of London, where it remained overnight for safe keeping.   
It was the rotary power of 771 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm with their SEA KING HAR.5s that in May 2012 had carried the flame to Lands End at the start of what had become a quite increditable and successful national event.

Earlier when passing through Greenwich eighteen (18) sailors from the Helicopter Carrier OCEAN lined the waterfront to applaud the torch bearer (yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston who is also an honorary Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve) carrying the flame past the newly restored Clipper CUTTY SARK as a Fleet Air Arm LYNX HM.8 flew overhead.

Contingency Plans - the media are speculating that the Autumn COUGAR 12 deployment is prepared for a mass evacuation of British citizens from Syria and neighbouring countries.    COUGAR 12 will include the Helicopter Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS as part of a substantial task force due to deploy to the eastern Mediterranean for large scale exercises after the Olympics lead by the Assault Ship BULWARK with 45 Commando, RM in the vanguard.    Amphibious landings in Sardinia, Albania and Turkey are scheduled with the likely exercise area will include Cyprus, juts 100 miles from the Syria mainland.    The Response Force Task Group, established by the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010 has as part of a regular training cycle longstanding plans to conduct a series of exercises (with Allies) in the Mediterranean during October and November 2012.   Contingency planning takes place, of course, across a range of global scenarios and it would be outrangous if the media speculation were not true.

Parker Hall – it is a sad reality that military operations are not without risk and servicemen and women can suffer damage one way or another so it is a timely development that a new rehabilitation facility (Parker Hall) has been opened at the Commando Training Centre, RM Lympstone (Poole).   This is the first dedicated centre of excellence for treating Royal Marine recruits.       The £3m Parker Hall facility will have as its chief clients the injured recruits from Hunter Company, RM from the Commando Training Centre, RM.

Royal Marines who are injured on operations are rehabilitated through Hasler Company, RM (Plymouth) and in their own Commando unit which have their own small scale recovery troops, ie ::
·         Kangaw Troop  @ 42 Commando RM (Plymouth)i
·         Termoli Troop  @ 40 Commando RM (Taunton)
·         Harden Troop  @ 45 Commando RM (Arbroath).

British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre To Merge ? – these two branches of the  Natural Environment Research Council seem set to merge next year.    The Natural Environment Research Council say they intend to continue to operate scientific bases in South Georgia and Antarctica and is considering a merger of the scientific and logistics management of marine and polar science delivered through the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre.    A unified marine and polar headquarters would “deliver a single management function whilst retaining the identity of the existing centres as component parts.”      All the existing sites, at Cambridge, Southampton, and Liverpool, would remain without the need for significant relocations of staff.     The potential merger will be further considered in December 2012 and in the meantime Natural Environment Research Council will be consulting its staff and wider stakeholders on how best to implement the proposed changes “in order to increase both the excellence and impact of NERC marine and polar science.”     The merged fleet of the combined organisations would in 2013 be:

                                                                Length (OA)  Built          Operator
            RRS JAMES CLARK ROSS           99.4m      1991           British Antarctic Survey
            RRS ERNEST SHACKLETON        80.0m      1995          British Antarctic Survey
            RRS JAMES COOK                      89.5m         2006         National Oceanography Centre
            RRS DISCOVERY                         88.8m         2013          National Oceanography Centre

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Exercise Dynamic Mongoose – two MERLIN HM1 Anti-Submarine helicopters of 814 Naval Air Squadron have returned to Culdrose from Exercise Dynamic Mongoose a newly established NATO Anti-Submarine Warfare exercise in the Norwegian Sea.
First F-35 Jump Jet Handed Over - The MOD has received its first inaugural F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, named LIGHTNING II in British service with the Fleet Air Arm and RAF service.     At a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, the Defence Secretary formally accepted the first of short take off and vertical landing F-35B - the UK is the first country outside the US to receive an F35 – three have been ordered initially for evaluation and trials – and the Defence Secretary announced that the MOD intended to order a fourth LIGHTNING II aircraft next year.    There is already a Royal Navy team Stateside working on the F35 project, including engineers and technicians at Pax River, the US Navy’s Test Flight School outside Washington DC.      The LIGHTNING 11 will be operational from land based airfields from 2018, when it will also begin flight trials on the Aircraft Carrier QUEEN ELIZABETH. When the production models enter service they will probably based at RAF Marham near King’s Lynn (Norfolk)

The importance to GBUK Ltd of the Joint Strike Fighter is clear as one seventh of work on the project is carried out in the UK – some 130 British companies contribute to the supply chain, which will be worth over £1bn to UK industry each year and will support around 25,000 British jobs over the next quarter of a century.
Gunnery Training Off Gibraltar – The Type 23 Frigate SUTHERLAND, en route to “East of Suez” to relieve sistership WESTMINSTER, used the ranges off Gibraltar during gunnery exercises in an opening salvo on the six month deployment.    The live firing was part of a series of Naval Gunfire Support exercises with 148 Battery, Royal Artillery, the specialist observers who help direct the guns of the Fleet in time of conflict – as they did with the SUTHERLAND off Libya 12 months ago.

Maritime Force Commander Dorset - is an “Olympic” post filled by the Commanding Officer of the Assault Ship BULWARK on Olympic Patrol off Weymouth Bay conducting maritime surveillance.   BULWARK has already conducted a set of WESCAM trials prior to the start of this commitment, where WESCAM provided a live video feed from a MERLIN helicopter to the Operations Room onboard.

BULWARK is providing in the Portland and Weymouth area during the Olympic Games, assisted by Landing Ship RFA MOUNTS BAY plus (unidentified) P2000 patrol boats, plus Royal Marines of 4 Assault Squadron with their landing craft.      The MERLIN HM1 Anti-Submarine helicopters of 814 Naval Air Squadron – have flown into Yeovilton from Culdrose, to join the Olympic security mission, carrying out surveillance of shipping off Weymouth, the venue for sailing events, operating daily out of Yeovilton, flying to and from BULWARK.
Combined Maritime Forces – this is the partnership of more than two dozen Navies committed to keeping the seas clear of all manner of nefarious activity (pirates, smugglers, drug runners, people traffickers, terrorists).    These Bahrain based forces directs the work of three distinct task groups of around half a dozen warships each, operating from the head of the Gulf to the Red Sea in the west, shores of India and Pakistan in the east and Seychelles in the south – and to put that into some context the area is some 2½ million square miles or more than eight times the size of the North Sea.  The ships allocated to those three task forces are:-
-       TF 150 (Counter-Terrorism/Maritime Security)
-       TF 151 (Counter-Piracy)
-       TF 152 (Maritime Security in the Gulf) – which typically operate as ‘lone wolves’, hundreds of miles away from other vessels assigned to the same force.
DIAMOND On Station – the Type 45 Destroyer DIAMOND is now on station “East of Suez” and by so doing has relieved sistership DARING which is now homeward bound.    The DIAMOND is now serving with the twenty six nation Combined Maritime Forces, and recently has been sailing in tandem with the Australian Adelaide Class guided-missile Frigate MELBOURNE.

Battle of the Atlantic Commemoration One of the Fleet Air Arm’s two vintage SWORDFISH flew in the skies above Somerset in run up to Battle of the Atlantic commemorations with a BBC film crew in attendance to record footage for a documentary on the pivotal battle, whose victory will be marked by a weekend of major events in Liverpool next spring.   That battle – described by Churchill as “the dominating factor all through the war” – reached its climax in the spring of 1943.   In May 1943, the Allied powers sank 43 German submarines – 34 of them in the Atlantic – which wiped out a quarter of the enemy’s frontline strength.    Liverpool – home in the war to Western Approaches from where the struggle against the U-boat was directed – will be the focal point of 70th anniversary commemorations  in May 2013.

702 Air Squadron – the Fleet Air Arm unit 702 Air Squadron Royal at Yeovilton has a complement of around 160 aircrew and maintainers operating both dual control and operational LYNX helicopter.    The primary purpose of the Squadron is to provide training for aircrew and maintenance personnel to enable them to operate in the highly demanding maritime aviation environment.    702 Squadron is in now facing the challenges of “transitioning” to the upcoming WILDCAT.
DEFENDER Arrives – The fifth Type 45 Destroyer, DEFENDER, has made a first entry into Portsmouth Naval Base where an acceptance of contract ceremony took place.  Only DUNCAN to go now.

Tobacco Dock Barracks – One of the side issues of the G4S debacle has seen troops from 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps (Army) from Marchwood (Southampton), setting up military accommodation at Tobacco Dock in East London for the bulk of the 3,500 additional military personnel who are being deployed on Olympics security operations
SDSR 2015 – Answering questions at the House of Commons Defence Committee the Secretary of State for Defence first of all confirmed that work on the SRSR 2015 is already underway and that he had every confidence that the SRSR 2015 will take place in 2015.     The Secretary of State for Defence also confirmed that among the key decisions that will be in the next SRSR will be decisions on the “Carriers” and the Maritime Reconnaissance capability, or rather a lack of it.   So what are the UK’s options for  Maritime Reconnaissance  ?

They boil down to two existing projects:-
-       The BOEING P-8 POSEIDON (based on the 737-800 airframe) capable of anti-submarine warfare, shipping interdiction and electronic intelligence.       This means carrying torpedoes, depth charges, SLAM-ER anti-ship missiles and other weapons, and has the ability to drop and monitor sonobuoys..    It is also designed to operate in conjunction with the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance unmanned aerial vehicle.        Sales of the P-8 POSEIDON, apart from those the US Navy include the old Empire alliance of Australia and India with Canada and New Zealand expected to join that happy band.
-       The other lesser option would appear to be one of the turbo-prop option – Italy originally intended to go down the P-3 ORION replacement ie: P-8 POSEIDON route but settled for the French-Italian ATR 72 civil airliner as modified.    The alternative would seems to be the Spanish built C-295 of Airbus Military which is a development of the commercially successful Spanish-Indonesian transport aircraft CASA/IPTN CN-235, with a stretched fuselage.   The list of operators is long and impressive with the Spanish Air Force in the lead with the C-295 is in service with the Armed Services of 13 (what may be termed lesser) countries with some 113 C295s contracted (85 in service, and one lost).

One issue to consider would be the basing of any such aircraft – RAF Kinloss, the home of the ill fated NIMROD has been reduced to an Army Barracks for the Royal Engineers and is not an option.   Could Culdrose become the natural choice for these aircraft if they are ever ordered ?

Monday, 16 July 2012

Second U-Turn on the Design of Britain’s New Aircraft Carriers ? - The Political Editor of the SUN (so it must be true ?) reports that the Prime Minister could be forced into a SECOND multi-billion pound U-turn on the design of Britain’s new aircraft carriers.     It goes on to say that the Government will  have to dump the revised plan for jump jets to fly off the two Carriers if there is no quick resolution to the US budget crisis.    Chopping of the American led programme to build the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter is “likely” under automatic spending cuts, a US Congress report has revealed.    This is the story that keeps giving.
DEAL Bomb A four man Royal Navy Bomb Disposal Team from Portsmouth have blown up a large 500lb device (bomb) off Kent’s east coast, which was dropped by enemy aircraft (German World War Two).   The device was brought to the surface by a Dredger near the entrance to the port of Dover.    It was taken three miles out to sea off Deal and lowered back to the seabed and waited for the safest tidal window when a controlled explosion took place.   The local Coastguard put a one mile cordon in place during the operation, but no major shipping movements in the area were affected.   Fof our Bomb Disposal Teams the War is not yet over!
VICTORY at the OlympicsHMS VICTORY provided the historic backdrop as Olympic Flame passed through Portsmouth.     The flame was passed between torchbearers in the shadow of the great Man o’War as it moved through the Solent, (Fareham and Gosport) before crossing the harbour with a Royal Navy escort to visit Portsmouth.   The Patrol Boat EXPLOIT – which earlier in the weekend shepherded the flame across to the Isle of Wight when it took a Red Funnel ferry.    The flame, escorted by two World War Two motorboats, took passage of the ferry SPIRIT OF GOSPORT for 580 yard journey across the harbour from Gosport to Portsmouth.    From HMS VICTORY the torch made its way to a big event and cauldron lighting on Southsea Common.

DRAGON Fires VIPER - The fourth (and latest) Type 45 Destroyer DRAGON launched a SEA VIPER air defence missile at an incoming drone in almost perfect conditions on a rare hazy summer’s afternoon on the ranges of the Outer Hebrides, thus proving her main weapon system is ready for action.   Sadly the MIRACH drone from 792 Squadron Fleet Air Arm (Culdrose) disintegrated over the Atlantic.    After a visit to Belfast – the first by a Type 45 to Northern Ireland – the work up of the DRAGON will continue with operational sea training off the south west coast of England before advanced training with a French Carrier Battle Group.
The Olympic Games are Here – At Least for the Military - The Helicopter Carrier OCEAN has sailed up the River Thames and berthed at Greenwich and will play a key role supporting the police in providing security to the Olympic Games.   The OCEAN will remain “on station” (a period of seven weeks, until mid September 2012) until after the Paralympics Games and will act as a helicopter landing platform and logistics hub in support of maritime and air security operations, and an accommodation ship for 400 military personnel.

Embarked on OCEAN will be 9 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, with their four (4) landing craft, capable of landing troops or a Land Rover sized vehicles.  Also embarked will be small craft operated by Royal Marines from 539 Assault Squadron and 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group,
The Air Group operating from the OCEAN will comprise:-
-       APACHE Gunships are likely to reprise their role during the Libyan campaign, probably designated 661 Squadron Army Air Corps, which is charged with the aviation reaction role - 661 Squadron Army Air Corps does not appear on any published list of Army Air Corp units
-       Four (4) Naval LYNX and four (4) Army LYNX helicopters
Detached Ashore @ RAF Northolt (but no doubt using OCEAN as their Forward Base)
-       three (3) Airborne Surveillance and Control Early Warning SEA KING ASaC.7 helicopters of 854 Naval Air Squadron (from Culdrose).
-       SEA KING HC4 helicopters from the Commando Air Wing at Yeovilton